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Yellowstone Caldera has Risen Three Inches Per Year for Last Three Years

I saw this at the Daily Mail, which everyone should know is a very unreliable source, but it's still a little concerning:

They said that the super-volcano underneath the Wyoming park has been rising at a record rate since 2004 - its floor has gone up three inches per year for the last three years alone, the fastest rate since records began in 1923.

But hampered by a lack of data they have stopped short of an all-out warning and they are unable to put a date on when the next disaster might take place.

When the eruption finally happens it will dwarf the effect of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted in April last year, causing travel chaos around the world.

The University of Utah's Bob Smith, an expert in Yellowstone's volcanism told National Geographic: "It's an extraordinary uplift, because it covers such a large area and the rates are so high."

"At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption."

The prior probability of a catastrophic eruption per year is about 0.00014%. Alexsei remarked in the comments that the probability is actually higher because it rises the more time elapses since the last eruption, and the eruptions have been fairly periodic for the last two million years. I want to do a more precise calculation, but say that it increased the probability by a factor of ten, that would be 0.0014% chance per year, or a 0.14% chance this century.

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  1. “The prior probability of a catastrophic eruption per year is about 0.00014%.”

    Sounds like that prior hasn’t been updated with the knowledge we have regarding how long it has been since the last big eruption, and that said amount of time approximately equals the amount of years that tend to pass between big eruptions.

    Which means I’m saying that we already know more than to treat all years as equally probable for an eruption. The probability rises as time passes without an eruption, and a lot of time has passed since the last one.

  2. Yeah, good point. I’m not sure how to do the precise Bayesian calculation for that one, perhaps a mathematician can help us?

  3. I wanted to know more about this, so I looked around for a more down to earth explanation on the Yellowstone situation.

    Cecil Adams from Straight Dope to the rescue:

    The 600,000’ish pattern is, according to Cecil, illusory.

  4. The only odds that matter are the odds of it happening during the extremely narrow geological window of time that man has been a technological species. Of the large number of “Great Filter” scenarios, I would rate a super-eruption way, way down the list, to the point where it’s not even worth considering.

  5. Sorry, I misread the article.

    Those 10 inches are probably about the rise in the past few years.

    It’s the crappy headline that made me think like it just happened.

  6. From Wikipedia:

    The upward movement of the Yellowstone caldera floor—almost 3 inches (7.6 cm) each year between 2004 and 2008—was more than three times greater than ever observed since such measurements began in 1923. From mid-Summer 2004 through mid-Summer 2008, the land surface within the caldera moved upwards, as much as 8 inches (20 cm) at the White Lake GPS station.
    By the end of 2009, the uplift had slowed significantly and appeared to have stopped. In January 2010, the USGS stated “that uplift of the Yellowstone Caldera has slowed significantly” and uplift continues but at a slower pace. The U.S. Geological Survey, University of Utah and National Park Service scientists with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory maintain that they “see no evidence that another such cataclysmic eruption will occur at Yellowstone in the foreseeable future. Recurrence intervals of these events are neither regular nor predictable.”

  7. What is also rarely talked about is that Yellowstone has erupted a lot more often than every 600,000 years or so. There have been dozens of smaller eruptions, the latest being 70,000 years ago. Geologists can’t tell whether an eruption will be a super-eruption or a smaller eruption based on available data. But the media loves catastrophe, so all we hear is the threat of the annihilation of 2/3 of the US.

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